Officials: Woman Killed Over Baby's Custody, Then Body Burned

Jessi Mendoza, 29, has been charged with killing Kimberly Hayes and setting her body on fire

A woman whose burning body was discovered last month in Alpine may have been killed over custody of a baby, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Kimberly Hayes, 35, was found dead March 9 on a dirt road off Sequan Truck Trail. The Lakeside woman had been set on fire, and her body was still smoldering when it was discovered by a water district employee.

More than a month later, four arrests have been made in the case.

On Friday, members of the sheriff’s department’s homicide unit and Fugitive Task Force arrested Jessi Mendoza, 29, at an El Cajon hotel. Mendoza has been charged with murder and arson.

Matthew Williams, 30; Lauren Huett, 33; and Jennifer Stein, 31, were arrested on conspiracy and accessory charges.

“They were aware of the plan to kill her beforehand, and then the three of them did attempt to conceal the murder crime afterward,” said Lt. Glenn Giannantonio with the sheriff’s department.

The victim and the four suspects “informally” lived together in the same El Cajon apartment, according to sheriff’s officials. Mendoza and Stein have a newborn baby.

Officials say Hayes was shot to death inside the apartment March 8. The next morning, her body was dumped in the remote location and set on fire.

Investigators believe Hayes may have been killed over the baby.

“I can’t go into any details about that except to say Ms. Hayes was attempting to gain custody of Stein and Mendoza’s child,” Giannantonio said. “From what I know, it was by legal means.”

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